By Elias Mhegera – Once again African countries have been counseled to revival railway systems which currently seem to be neglected in many countries due to a number of reasons.
The call was part of the conclusions that were drawn in a two days seminar of African Logistics Conference that was conducted at the Serena Hotel in Dar es Salaam recently.
An expert conference was organized by the National Institute of Transport (NIT), in collaboration with the Kuhne Stiftung drawing engineers, transporters, drivers and other stakeholders.
The moderator of the occasion Mr Giliard Ngewe, Head of Business Administration at the NIT said that problems within the transportation sector needed to be addressed carefully by both the private and public sector but also by the civil society.
Mr Martin Willhaus from the Kuehne Foundation introduced the historical background of his organization and its dream of improving the area of transportation and logistics. He emphasized that there was a need for improvement in the areas of research and skills.
Opening the conference was Dr Harrison Mwakyembe Minister of Transport, who was the guest of honour who appreciated the importance of reviving the railways system being the backbone of Tanzania’s economy.
Dr Mwakyembe said that the transportation sector in Tanzania is highly affected by laws which are incompatible with the existing situation, inadequate investments and poor logistical chains.
He admitted that there was need to improve the infrastructure in order to facilitate easy transportation of food supplies. Moreover he requested visitors to take advantage of this conference and extend their visits to the tourist attractions of Tanzania.
Apart from transportation, logistics, capacity building and food security the congregation also discussed other cross-cutting issues like regional security, intra-conflicts and the spread of HIV/Aids.
The seminar was also coloured by the presence of the Germanys Ambassador to Tanzania Hon. Dr Klause – Peter Brandes who emphasized of the historical ties between Germany and Tanzania. The former is the designer of the biggest part of the transportation during its colonial hegemony.
Importance of the Railway System
The importance of the railways system was singled out to be of unique importance due to the fact that railways are stable, durable and cost-effective. For instance the Central Railway was acknowledged for having played a vital role in transporting goods and passengers for almost entire period since its establishment during the colonial rule.
Apart from that role railways have been crucial in transporting humanitarian assistance to various refugee camps given that fact that Tanzania has always remained a host country to many refugees in the troubled area of East and Central Africa particularly Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Rwanda.
The railway has also been important in transporting cash crops from the hinterland ready for export along the coastal region of Dar es Salaam. It has also been used to ensure that there is food security whenever there are emergencies.
According to Prof Anthony Beresford, from the University of Cardiff who gave a key note speech on the railway sector, railways must be understood in the context of many other related structures.
For instance the physical corridor as it is with Rwanda for Tanzania. But also the type of common commodities as it is with oils for Tanzania.
Ms Rukia Shamte Executive Secretary of the Central Corridor Transit Transport Facilitation Agency (CC-TTFA), spoke on the need to improve the Central Corridor which could even benefit more the whole of East and Central Africa.
She encouraged for the Private Public Partnership initiative in order to improve the business links. She admitted that the railways infrastructures are currently dilapidated to the extent that they affect import and exports business opportunities.
Moreover she called for improved road infrastructures which leads to the Central Corridor in order to fasten the transportation of cargo, with these improvements she was sure that Tanzania will achieve tremendous economic development.
Dr Tobias Heinemman from Rift Valley Railways, Kenya said that transportation networks are important if they bring various stakeholders in order to strategies mechanisms together.
For instance shipping lines, cargo owners and freight forwarders, mining companies, parcel transporters like DHL, oil transporting companies etc. He gave an example of best practice of what is currently happening in Kenya.
He acknowledged that this cooperation has helped in getting quick solutions to the commonly occurring challenges in the transportation sector in Kenya.
Eng. Brycen Munuo senior planning officer at the Reli Assets Holding Company (RAHCO) noted that there are many challenges facing the railways transportation sector in Tanzania. For instance he admitted that the existing infrastructure and networks are not in good shape.
He challenged that with increasing demands in the transportation there was a need to replace the existing single track network. He also noted that the current steel sleepers which are predominant are meant for small and slow carriers.
However Mahmoud Mabuyu from the WFP-Tanzania said that regardless of the mentioned weaknesses, but the railway in this country has been a best ally whenever there were emergencies to resolve humanitarian crises.
He acknowledged that the railway has been identified to be cost effective, and it reaches many places which are proper for disembarkation. He appreciated that this has been another reliable contributor to job creation although also he admitted of reported cases of cargo losses.
He was saddened that of recent years the railways transportation in Tanzania is lacking the characteristic competitiveness due to a number of reasons, namely the fact that utility was decreasing could minimize expertise.
He admitted that one advantage at disposal to the railway network is that it is the only best solution for bulky, homogeneous and of long haulage.
This view was supported by George Wolf Jr of Trade Mark East Africa-Tanzania who said that the railways system remains one of the best mechanisms for nonprofit carriage.
He advanced that the same could be realized for the One Stop Border Post (OSBP) where persons, vehicles and goods make a single stop to exit one country and enter another in the East African Community.
He acknowledged such benefits mainly to the land locked countries like Rwanda and Uganda. He however noted that there were big losses caused by delays and poor handling of cargoes in ports.
Moreover he challenged that due to increasing deterioration of the railways infrastructure there are now unpredictable occurrences hence the surge of trucks in the road network.
Dr Zacharia Mganilwa rector at the NIT boasted that his institute has stood to be one of the most unique providers of knowledge in the transportation sector due to the fact that its approach is a Competence Based Education.
“We always consider the situation, environment and gathered information then we draft a curriculum which is thereafter forwarded to internal and external stakeholders for their assessment, in this way we have been making a good contribution by producing good performers,” he commented.
The don argued further that apart from the theoretical and practical undertakings during the training, students must attend a six months training in their relevant field a situation that has made students to graduate after being well equipped in their areas of specializations.
Moreover he acknowledged that apart from training drivers of trucks, forklifts, tractors, and buses his institute also trains transport officers who are placed in various organizations.
During the question and answers session Dr Mganilwa admitted that he was saddened by the fact that female students are few in pursuing studies in logistics in comparison to their male counterparts.
“Our new efforts will extend up to secondary schools whereby we will encourage girls to take an interest in this discipline from that lower level, we are sure that once they get well acquainted in this area from that stage it will be easier for them to follow in their advanced stages,” he commented assuredly.
He narrated further that supply chain logistics is an element that must be known to all participants including women. He acknowledged that military training has always gone hand in hand with logistics supply, civil engineering, and civil protection.
However he encouraged that all bodies dealing with emergence supplies must undergo such studies for instance Red Cross staff, the Christian Refugees Services, as it had happened in Mozambique due to frequent floods, soldiers have been trained on how to handle this kind of a situation.
Assefa Balda from the Adama University of Science and Technology in Ethiopia gave an experience of how this training is conducted in his university by saying that at the centre stage is societal needs that are put in the forefront.
He narrated further that academicians are given this curricula in order to review it and make informed comments before this is extended to staff for capacity building through practical training, lecturers and internships.
“We have created a system whereby trainees have to go to villages and other areas where they can get practical experience and after that they go back to the university to present papers in the acquired experiences,” he commented.
He also narrated that his university has been conducting seminars to the professional logisticians in order to equip them with skills of dealing with logistics during the time of emergencies. He was responding to the question of Juma Fimbo a logistic lecturer from the NIT.
Chris Wright who spoke on Capacity Building in Humanitarian Logistics in Eastern Africa said that supply chains are people’s chains therefore they have to be trained adequately in order to ensure that consigns are located appropriately and that they are handled effectively.
Moreover he said that public health logistics need a more conscious handling and that this is a professional process which needs regular improvements.
He also challenged that in the current digitalized world there was a need to reduce bulky transportation instead electronic data should be applied more for office use and planning systems. He added that this will reduce costs as well as serve trees and the environment in general.
“Electronic data can be downloadable up to the district level this is more efficient because it serves the infrastructure, reduces use of fuels, serve money, reduces use of labour power rescues the environment and after all the storage is more of a long term,” he commented.
Elaborating further on the supply chain he said that they need long-term plans, finance and coordination. Moreover these also need funding commitments and security along the way.
Prof Ingo Becker from Life Ethiopia who presented a paper on Integrated Development Approach said that in Ethiopia there were and still there are problems of refugee camps.
These camps demands ample supply of water, shelter, and food hence the need for logistical supply from time to time. Strange enough is the fact that in Ethiopia there are people who can live in refugee camps up to 20 years because they do not have anywhere else to go.
He mentioned the main problems as being political unrest, tsunami, and other natural calamities, one of those or their combination has caused food shortage and insecurity in general and a demand for proper keeping of records by the NGOs have employed local persons who are supposed to provide assistance and make the environment conducive for livelihood.
“By having up to 25,000 refugees in these camps you need to have capacity building for people in this area being teachers, students, and pupils from primary schools but also to their parents,” he commented.
He noted that many operation systems are similar in many African countries, therefore trainers in transportation should not remain academicians perse but they should go to the grass roots level, this tells that even nurses never get theory only but they must be prepared to go to the practical side of their duty.
Mr. Karimu Mtambo from the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Cooperatives who although he was a moderator but he had to face a lot of challenging questions on the Tanzania’s green revolution initiative, the Kilimo Kwanza.
Participants wanted to know if the initiative has helped in changing people’s lives particularly the peasant farmer. He responded that there was a need for other supporting systems to be improved in order for the Kilimo Kwanza dream to be realized.
In question are the transportation networks, rural electrification, credit facilities and soft loans to peasants. He however had to face of criticism that the process has been hijacked by some few with resources while sidelining the majority poor peasants.
“Food security is a complex process, it needs the technical knowhow, logistical support and including women who must also learn how to deal with export crops, on quality control and packaging,” he commented.
Dr Helmut Albert from German International Co-operation (GIZ), said that famine in many African countries is caused by political situations as it is in the war torn Somalia, in the Democratic Republic of Congo and in many other places where production has been interrupted.
Apart from the normal civil strife, he singled out drought to be another cause, conflicts and a failure of institutions to work properly. Moreover he acknowledged that fragility of the states, overgrazing, or frequent resettlement in search of livelihood could contribute to famine.
“We have been seeing pastoralists moving from one area to another, and at times they move in wrong directions because although there is food for their livestock but there is no sufficient water, currently there is a satellite guided strategy which can help pastoralists where to go,” he commented.
He counseled African governments and institutions to support peace because in many countries where there are unnecessary movements they are always caused by instigators.
He insisted that a powerful army is essential in order to protect people from the effects of civil wars as it has been in Mozambique and now the DR-Congo.
He reminded that for quite some time Tanzania has been a host country for refugees but their influx has always been devastative to forestry and even agriculture let alone the environment. He highlighted that in all areas which have been chosen for resettlement of refugees there is always an ecological transformation.
“It would be much better that nations contribute money and let the refugees work in their own country after re-assuring them of peace once the refugees are back home,” he added.
He highlighted that People moving with herds of cattle have been causing famine, but also he warned that large scale farming has turned to be another source of famine in some cases because people tends to forget agriculture and concentrate in other petty businesses.
“While appreciating the positive side of large scale mining we must also understand that it creates urban life in rural areas which are fertile for agriculture, in certain circumstances even prostitution and modern slavery accompanies these projects,” he insisted.
He reminded that in relocation due to social strife like what is happening in Nigeria could lead to food insecurity. Another area which drew attention is the horn of Africa where it was released that the World Food Programme continues to support food commodities in the form of wheat, sorghum and fertilizers.
Management of food security in this area has however entailed a restriction of movements in conflict areas, following a security incident in Somali Region which resulted in the death of one WFP staff member in May 2011.